Priti Patel has faced calls to resign by opposition MPs for “misleading parliament” after she claimed the Home Office followed public health advice when housing asylum seekers at Napier Barracks.
Letters to the Home Affairs Select Committee from Public Health England (PHE) were released on Wednesday revealing that they had previously advised the Home Office against dormitory-style accommodation at the site in Folkestone, Kent, as it was not Covid compliant.
However at a hearing of the Committee in February this year the home secretary told MPs that the Home Office had followed PHE guidance throughout the process.
During a debate today several opposition MPs called for her resignation and raised the case of Amber Rudd resigning as home secretary in 2018 for “inadvertently misleading” the Committee over targets for removing illegal immigrants.
The SNP’s Joanna Cherry, MSP for Edinburgh South West, said: “Other MPs have asked the minister whether the current Home Secretary misled the committee in oral evidence on February 24 this year.
“In response to those questions the minister keeps referring to a Public Health England letter from June of this year, which talks about full co-operation from the Home Office since spring of this year.
“Of course when the Home Secretary gave evidence on February 24, she was talking about what had happened before then, not what happened this spring, and evidence presented to the High Court suggests that what she said - that the department had previously followed public health guidance regarding Napier Barracks in every single way - was simply not factually correct and the High Court has said the fact that the public health evidence was ignored meant the Covid outbreak was inevitable.
“So why isn’t the Home Secretary tendering her resignation as Amber Rudd had the grace and decency to do?”
Labour MP Zarah Sultana questioned why Ms Patel was not in the Commons today to “correct the record” and also made reference to Ms Rudd’s resignation in 2018.
Last week six asylum seekers won a court challenge against the Home Office after the High Court found their “squalid” accommodation failed to meet a minimum standard.
On Thursday, Mr Justice Linden ruled in favour of the men and found the Home Office acted unlawfully when deciding the former military camp was appropriate.
He referenced overcrowding and the failure to follow PHE advice among the reasons the barracks were unlawfully unsuitable.
Mr Justice Linden added: “The fact that the decision to make use of the barracks entailed failing to apply fundamental aspects of the advice of PHE - not to use dormitory-style accommodation but, if they did, to keep numbers down to six per dormitory which would then form a bubble - meant that the defendant failed to ensure ‘a standard of living adequate for the health of (the claimants)’ whether the point is taken in isolation or cumulatively with the other features of the accommodation at the barrack.”
Despite the High Court ruling the barracks, which had a Covid outbreak in January this year infecting almost 200 people, is still open.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “During the height of an unprecedented health pandemic, to ensure asylum seekers were not left destitute, additional accommodation was required at extremely short notice. We make no apology for providing people a secure place to stay.
“The judgment rejected the claim that conditions at Napier amounted to inhumane or degrading treatment.
“At all times during the pandemic we believed we took reasonable steps to give effect to the advice from the health authorities. Significant improvements have been made to the site, including improved accommodation and more outdoor and recreational activities.”